Ian Forster

Ian Forster has been at the forefront of the diving and leisure industries since the 1960’s. He started snorkeling in 1958, scuba diving in 1967. Following successes for Britain and England as an international athlete Ian graduated from Borough Road College (now Brunel University) in 1970 as a teacher in physical education and mathematics.

He was commissioned in the RAF the same year as a Physical Education Officer where he experienced and organized military and expedition diving. In 1973 he was appointed as manager of the international athletics stadium at Solihull, followed by 6 months as headteacher of the outdoor pursuits centre on Loch Doon, Scotland before joining PGL where he was Regional Manager of their International Adventure Holiday & Diving Centre at Port Grimaud, Saint Tropez, France for 2 years. It was during this period, when he was doing up to 3 dives a day to 50 metres that he pioneered the breathing of oxygen between dives to reduce the residual nitrogen loading.

In 1978 Ian joined Thomas Cook Holidays at Peterborough, quickly progressing to Manager of Winter Sports and Adventure Holidays including diving. In 1979 he developed the first tour operator-organised diving programme worldwide with Malta in the first programme. At that time there was no “all in one” system for renting cylinders and weight belts, or arranging boat dives. In fact divers traditionally transported their weight belt and lead during the flight around their waist. Applying his skiing background to the problem he introduced the first “gear pack” of cylinder, weights and unlimited air, and negotiated 6 dive and 12 dive packs which could be booked with Thomas Cook at the same time as the main holiday.

In 1981 during a research trip to Florida, Ian logged the first British dive on the Wilkes-Barre off Key West, 75metres on air with 100% O2 supplied from the boat at 3 metres, one of the earliest recreational dives involving nitrogen washout with oxygen. In the following years, trimix tables were developed, and the wreck became internationally famous as the trimix centre of the world, with helium added to the air to reduce the punishing effects of nitrogen and risk of O2 toxicity at those depths. Ian’s pioneering of O2 as a gas washout in the 70’s and early 80’s preceded the first recreational “nitrox” diving courses in 1987.

In May 1983 Ian qualified as a PADI Instructor, and left Thomas Cook to launch, with his wife Pauline, the dive business they now jointly own and manage. In 1984 he dual qualified as a BSAC Advanced Instructor, and pioneered the early cross-over courses between the agencies. In 1985 Ian and Pauline bought Gildenburgh Water, which became the first, and only, inland centre to be granted Government approval by the Sports Council. In 1988 BSAC invited Ian to take over ownership of their National Inland Site at Dosthill Quarry, Tamworth, nr Birmingham. The same year Ian worked closely with BSAC to develop their Centres of Excellence Programme, and Gildenburgh became the first Centre of Excellence in 1989. The same year PADI also recognized Gildenburgh’s importance in the UK when they started using the National Site as an independent examination centre for PADI instructor candidates.

Ian qualified as a Course Director in 1990, and formed Dive In Ltd in 1991 to better handle the growth of diving. Between 1983 and 1992, when PADI was operating the UK from their California HQ, Ian and Pauline were instrumental in pioneering the growth of PADI in the UK. This lead PADI to set up a regional HQ at Bristol in 1992.

Ian attended the first Tek DEMA Show in Florida in 1993, and was invited to Chair the inaugural “Deep Dive Forum” at which the definition of recreational and technical diving was discussed and agreed by the various training agencies in attendance. This important milestone opened the way for the subsequent growth in technical diving and rebreathers. He also qualified as an Instructor Trainer with ANDI (American Nitrox Divers International). Back at Gildenburgh he built what is believed to be the first mixed gas charging panel in the UK which was commissioned by Dick Rutkowski, the “Grandfather of Recreational Nitrox”.

In 1993 Ian was invited by PADI Europe to develop instructor training in Spain, and to establish Spain’s first 5 Star Instructor Development Centre. On 23 September, the US Senate approved legislation lifting economic sanctions against South Africa which lead PADI to invite Ian to develop instructor training in South Africa. In December the same year, he ran the first IDC, and provided logistical support a month later for the first PADI IE. He also ran the first ANDI nitrox instructor courses in the country. In recognition of his leadership services to PADI Ian was awarded the Innovative Leadership Award at DEMA 94. In 1997, Dive In were granted PADI Five Star Career Development Centre status.

After qualifying as a PADI Course Director in 1990 Ian trained previously unprecedented numbers of PADI Instructors in the UK, Spain and South Africa. It was unclear how existing diving at work legislation affected the new breed of UK professionals. In 1994, to air the issues, Sports Diver published the first definitive article on the responsibilities of diving instructors at work – authored by Ian – which pioneered the application of the Diving at Work Regulations 1997 to the recreational diving industry. The same year Ian was appointed as an expert witness to the Courts, and has been increasingly consulted as an expert on a wide range of diving matters ever since.

Also in 1997, Dive In diversified into closed-circuit rebreathers training users and instructors, and renting rebreathers to qualified divers who needed to log more hours on the units.

In 1998 Ian was appointed as an Instructor Trainer Director by ANDI, and the same year Gildenburgh became the first ANDI Technical Diving College worldwide. Ian was subsequently appointed to the ANDI World Board.

In 2001, Ian qualified as a DSAT Tec and Trimix Instructor Trainer, and as a PADI Rebreather Instructor Trainer in 2011

In 1998, Ian and Pauline’s daughter, Helen, became a PADI Course Director, taking over the majority of Dive In’s recreational instructor training, assisted since 2007 by Dive In’s third Course Director, Philippa Shoobert. Ian continues in his role as Chief Instructor.

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